best books on business ethics

What are the best books on business ethics?

Best Books on Business Ethics


1. The Ethics of Influence
2. Business Ethics
3. The Transparency Sale
4. Business Ethics (Ferrell)
5. Leading Beyond the Ego
6. American Kingpin
7. Winners Never Cheat
8. Business Ethics (Weiss)
9. The Infinite Game
10. Why They Do It
11. The CEO Pay Machine
12. Good People
13. Managing Business Ethics
14. Private Government
15. From Values To Action
16. Barbarians at the Gate

1 – The Ethics of Influence | By Cass Sunstein

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Organizations use deception, manipulation, influence, and, like in the government’s case, direct punishment to get you to accomplish what they need to be done. Ethicist and legal scholar Cass Sunstein, methodically points out these complicated issues, highlighting everything from types of light bulbs to actions taken by the World Bank. Co-author of the highly acclaimed and influential book Nudge, The Ethics of Influence: Government in the Age of Behavioral Science, Sunstein has often gone over this, in theory, and the real world. He knows every side of each argument, and he raises them, any chance he gets, with contagious interest. Anyone interested in organizational ethics and human behavior will relish the ideas they find here. 

Quotes from the book;

“However we define it, human welfare does not come from the sky. Self-government is a precious achievement, requiring a certain kind of architecture.”

“The most obvious problem with manipulation is that it can insult both autonomy and dignity.”

“If we care about human welfare, the guidance for public officials is simple and straightforward: Act to promote social welfare.”

“Whenever people make decisions, they do so in light of a particular choice architecture, understood as the background against which they choose. A choice architecture will nudge.”

“So long as people believe that the end is both legitimate and important, they are likely to favor nudges in its direction.”

2 – Business Ethics | By Denis Collins

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The second edition of this book concentrates on how to build superior performance and high integrity organizations. Author Denis Collins highlights how to create organizations that reduce ethical risks and reinforces ethical behavior. He does this using a unique and innovative Optical Ethics Systems Approach he created that shows you how to both acquire and train ethical workers that can make ethical decisions as well as create a productive and trusting work environment. This book, Business Ethics: Best Practices for Designing and Managing Ethical Organizations, takes practical approaches and is loaded with real-world case studies, strategies, and tips that can be of value to any organization doing business in this modern world. This is the perfect book for any aspiring business person.

Quotes from the book;

“Business ethics, isn’t that an oxymoron?” The answer to this often-repeated question is no, ethics permeate business activities. Businesses that operate based on good ethical principles abound and attract good employees and customers.”

“A well-managed organization is a community of people on a common mission to be effective, efficient, and ethical.”

“Ethics are similar to breathing and blinking, with a slight twist. How many times do you breathe and blink in a day?”

“Every profession and industry experiences unique and common ethical problems that must be managed.”

3 – The Transparency Sale | By Todd Caponi

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When we were children, we were taught that honesty is one of the most important things to have. Unfortunately, that ethic usually does not survive in the ruthless, rough-and-tumble of the world of business. A lot of people in sales believe that they handicap their chances whenever they tell unvarnished truths. Todd Caponi, an award-winning sales leader, in The Transparency Sale: How Unexpected Honesty and Understanding the Buying Brain Can Transform Your Results, claims those people are dead wrong, and he provides the science to back this claim. Using decision making-based research, Caponi shows how candor can create relationships of trust that can help lead to ongoing connections and sales transactions, which, in turn, also helps increase overall productivity.

Quotes from the book;

 “During every interaction…your buyer is subconsciously assessing whether you are communicating with sincerity, competence and consistency.” 

“Transparent negotiation [means] showing your hand to the buyer from the beginning, disarming their barrier to the discussion.” 

“Don’t be afraid of the flaws in your offerings, as exposing those flaws may be the very reason your customers engage with you, buy from you and keep buying from you.”

“We have been taught to sell perfection, but perfection does not sell. To win in this digital era, where feedback is all around us and easy to come by, we need to adjust how we sell to optimize for the way buyers buy.” 

“If you want to get [people] interested in you and what you have to offer, the first step is to show them you are interested in them. To show them you are interested in them, you must actually be interested in them.” 

4 – Business Ethics | O.C. Ferrell and John Fraedrich

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If you’re looking to learn how to make ethical decisions successfully in the complex managerial environment of today, then this market-leading book, Business Ethics by Ferrel and Fraedrich, will help you do that. Packed with simulations, exercises, and case studies, this applied approach addresses overall processes, best practices, and concepts associated with top-notch business ethics programs using proven managerial frameworks. It shows how ethics can be integrated into your critical strategic business decision-making. This book, Business Ethics: Ethical Decision Making & Cases,  that has been thoroughly revised highlights legislation that affects today’s business ethics, and it also provides the most relevant examples as well as the best practices high-profile business organizations use.

Quotes from the book;

“The ability to anticipate and deal with business ethics issues and dilemmas has become a significant priority in the twenty-first century.”

“To understand business ethics, you must first recognize that most people do not have specific definitions they use to define ethic-related issues.”

“Ethics is defined as behavior or decisions made within a groups’ values.”

“Business ethics decisions and activities have come under greater scrutiny by many different stakeholders, including consumers, employees, investors, government regulators, and special interest groups.”

5 – Leading Beyond the Ego | By John Knights and Greg Young

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Leadership consultants Greg Young, Danielle Grant, and John Knights claim that CEOs need robust moral codes if they don’t want to degenerate into exploitation, aggression, and ruthlessness. They also assert that organizations need heads that are charismatic, assertive, and self-confident as well. This book helps teach executives how they can transform themselves into “transpersonal leaders,” and it also explains why they should turn to empathy, ethics, and values for guidance as well. The authors highlight the kind of intelligence executives need and stresses those good leaders must be “good people” also. According to this book, Leading Beyond the Ego: How to Become a Transpersonal Leader, you don’t have to be harmful to be productive nor successful.

Quotes from the book;

 “We can start to look beyond our ego by considering the important people in our lives and how we can manage our own ego for the benefit of others.” 

“Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.” (former GE CEO Jack Welch) 

“The benefit of identifying the Ideal culture for the organization is that it gives the organization a beacon to aim for. From this we can identify which leadership styles need to be use more and which less.” 

“For the vast majority of us, our default leadership style, the ‘As-usual’ style, is to know everything and tell people what to do.”

“Leadership is complex and has many dimensions. One dimension is to look at the various levels of capability a leader needs in order to operate at the highest level.”

6 – American Kingpin | By Nick Bilton

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In American Kingpin: The Epic Hunt for the Criminal Mastermind Behind the Silk Road, Nick Bilton’s account of what went down with the Silk Road drug-dealing website is a true-crime techno-thriller that’s truly gripping. After Ross Ulbricht was done with college, he went back to his hometown of Texas and, working mostly via his laptop learning programming has as he worked, he managed to build an anonymous online drug marketplace. Ross, over the next three years, transformed himself into ‘Dead Pirate Roberts’, pocketed millions in profits, and started ordering hits on the competition and people that wronged him. He later inspired a considerable search, which involved 4 United States federal agencies. The cast you meet seems like something a screenwriter dreamt up. Dirty cops, a sleuthing IRS agent, noble crime-fighters, and villains, of course, that range from the comically inept to chillingly efficient. 

Quotes from the book;

“If anyone could buy drugs on the Silk Road, anyone would: from middle-aged yuppies who lived on the North Side of Chicago to young kids growing up in the heartland.”

“If they didn’t get him with his laptop open and logged in to the site, and Ross managed to close the lid or press a key that encrypted the hard drive, the case could go poof!”

“Ulbricht “was the person who would stop midsentence in a conversation and rush off to help an old lady cross the street.”

“Given the amount of attention the site was receiving…the people hunting him would only grow more desperate.”

“It wasn’t that Ross was worried; he truly believed that the Dread Pirate Roberts simply couldn’t be stopped – you can’t stop an idea!”

7 – Winners Never Cheat | By Jon Huntsman

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No matter the kind of business you do, the principles you find in this book, Winners Never Cheat: Everyday Values We Learned As Children (But May Have Forgotten), will be useful in both your life and work. Nothing’s new here really because respect, honesty, fairness, and honor are as old as time, no? With that said, this is kind of like a refresher course that helps reinforce what you’ve already been taught since birth about ethics and morality. Jon Huntsman, a successful businessman, and the author uses his life story as proof that core values don’t have to be compromised to become successful or even a billionaire for that matter. If you aspire to be or are already a leader in your line of work, this brief read is something you should strongly consider.

Quotes from the book;

“Courage is not the understanding of what is right or wrong. Rather, it is the strength to choose the right course.”

“As kids, we all were taught to share and share alike…we quickly learned that generosity was among the highest attributes a person could acquire.”

“It is the moral obligation of any person of wealth or any business worthy of its name to return to the community some of what they have been given. We are but temporary trustees of our fortunes, no matter the size.”

“Justice has a way of catching up to those who do injury to others. It happens most often without our assistance.”

“There are no moral shortcuts in the game of business – or life. There are, basically, three kinds of people: the unsuccessful, the temporarily successful, and those who become and remain successful. The difference is character.”

8 – Business Ethics | By Joseph Weiss

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This is an up-to-date, pragmatic, and hands-on guide that helps determine both what’s wrong and right in today’s business world. Joseph Weiss infuses stakeholder perspectives with issues-oriented approaches so that the students who read the book, Business Ethics: A Stakeholder and Issues Management Approach,  examine how the actions of a business can affect the world. It teaches how not to concentrate on profit and share price but to also focus on the well-being of customers, suppliers, employees, the local community, and the worldwide society at large. Weiss uses a plethora of contemporary examples, which includes 23 customized cases that place students into business ethics dilemmas that occurred recently and asked them how they’d go about solving them. 

Quotes from the book;

 “The Internet is changing everything: the way we communicate, relate, read, shop, bank, study, listen to music, get news and “TV,” and participate in politics.”

“Businesses and governments operate in and are disrupted by changing technological, legal, economic, social, and political environments with competing stakeholders and power claims, as many Middle Eastern countries, in particular, are experiencing.”

9 – The Infinite Game | By Simon Sinek

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In The Infinite Game, good leaders help their employees thrive by setting the right conditions. This often includes the building of a trusting and psychologically safe culture where people can enjoy both security and autonomy while they look for a purpose bigger than money or self. Consultant and motivational speaker Simon Sinek calls it the “Just Cause.” Sinek says wise and great leaders both look and plan for generations way ahead of theirs, in search of those world-changing, seemingly impossible goals. Some of his arguments may sound familiar. However, he goes on to use compelling and fresh language to express them. What we mean by this is that you’ve probably heard what he’s saying before, but he represents it in a new and exciting way.

Quotes from the book;

 “What good is it having a belly if there’s no fire in it? Wake up, drink your passion, light a match and get to work.”

“An infinite perspective frees us from fixating on what other companies are doing, which allows us to focus on a larger vision.” 

“Great companies don’t hire skilled people and motivate them, they hire already motivated people and inspire them.”

“It good people are asked to work in a bad culture, one in which leaders do not relinquish control, then the odds of something bad happening go up.”

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”

10 – Why They Do It | By Eugene Soltes

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In the United States, financial fraud runs up to nearly four-hundred billion every year. The executives to blame for all this corporate duplicity typically earn handsome salaries. So why go the criminal route, right? Eugene Soltes, a Harvard Business School professor, shares what he has come up with after many years of extensive study and research. His case histories make for fascinating reads. His topics almost exclusively revolve around men, so do not expect to find gender-neutral pronouns. As he explains in this book, “Women are conspicuously absent from the ranks of prominent white-collar criminals.” Most experts claim that this a book, Why They Do It: Inside the Mind of the White-Collar Criminal, that executives, professors, and students alike can’t just do without. 

Quotes from the book;

 “By understanding the particular ways misconduct arises, we can endeavor to anticipate these mistakes and design ways to pre-empt them.”

“I have never met an investor who cared whether his profit was made by questionable happenstance as long as he was not going to get in trouble.” (convicted Ponzi scheme operator Bernie Madoff)

“With ever-growing psychological distance separating people engaged in commerce, our antiquated moral intuitions are not well designed for the modern business world.”

“China once doled out the death penalty for white-collar convicts, but even with this ultimate punishment looming, executives continued to engage in corporate mischief.”

“White-collar criminal cases generally need to be built by the tedious and laborious accumulation of documentation and the triangulation of facts.”

11 – The CEO Pay Machine | By Steven Clifford

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In The CEO Pay Machine: How It Trashes America and How to Stop It, the compensation and salary packages most business organizations pay their CEOS have increased almost ten-fold in recent decades. Even the average CEO is commonly known to receive about a one-hundred million-dollar payday. Steven Clifford eloquently eviscerates executive pay by blaming gangs of cozy directors and compensation consultants. Clifford is a CEO that served on several corporate boards, and this has given him the ability to communicate in clear language and even use humor to explain performance benchmark manipulations and stock options taxability. He also happens to be a meticulous reporter as well. This is an engaging analysis; many analysts, budget-minded employers, and strategists will deeply appreciate it.

Quotes from the book;

“The great irony is that CEO bonuses do change actions and decisions: They make CEOs more selfish and less aligned with the interests of the shareholders.”

“No one planned the CEO pay explosion, though many CEOs welcomed it and exploited it, while many boards were, and remain, quiescent.”

“When I was in the right place at the right time, I was a genius. When I was in the wrong place at the wrong time, I was a moron.”

“Corporations…single economic goal should be to provide the shareholders with a superior, long-term, risk-adjusted return. This is not the same as maximizing share price.”

“Theft is an unpleasant word, so I will say that the CEO pay machine allows CEOs to liberate funds that would otherwise belong to their shareholders.”

12 – Good People | By Anthony Tjan

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Anthony Tjan, a best-selling author, had dozens of interviews and conducted extensive research to explore leadership while encouraging goodness and moral character. What came out of this includes the “Goodness Pyramid” and the “Good People Mantra.” These are frameworks designed for the evaluation and discussion of goodness and success. The theme he uses in this book is also his very own Golden rule, which is that leaders need to value people and help others become their best selves. His idealism tries to counterweigh profit-only leadership. According to this book, Good People: The Only Leadership Decision That Really Matters, being good in business should transcend profit and competency to encompass values. 

Quotes from the book;

 “Work is one of the strongest influences on our personal development.”

“The pursuit of goodness and good people has become the central organizing principle of how I try to conduct my life, raise my children, build my businesses, and lead my firm in ways that meet our business objective delivering superior returns while also positively influencing our partners, colleagues, entrepreneurs, investors, and all other stakeholders.”

“Good people purposely and proactively put people first in their decision making.”

“The most admired leaders in business and life, then, are those who embody a people-first philosophy.”

“When I was an MBA student at Harvard Business School, the majority of my classmates and I felt that the most important courses the university offered taught hard skills like finance, technology, and operations management. Yet alumni and professors took pains to remind our class that we were more likely to remember the soft skill-oriented classes on subjects like leadership, and they were right.”

13 – Managing Business Ethics | By Linda Trevino

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Kate Nelson and Linda Trevino blend to practice and theory in Managing Business Ethics. The authors are a dynamic team of longtime practitioners of human resources and strategic organizational communication. Kate Nelson, and distinguished Professor and prolific researcher, Linda Trevino, give students the knowledge they’ll need to help them understand ethical behavior, in general, as well as how to both determine and solve ethical dilemmas. This book, Managing Business Ethics: Straight Talk About How to Do It Right,  does a perfect job of preparing people for different roles in today’s business world and how workers can communicate and do business ethically. It shows business managers how to communicate ethically with the rest of the staff.

Quotes from the book;

 “The implosion of the financial markets in 2008 was largely not the result of illegal behavior. For the most part, the activities that brought down the U.S. economy and others around the world were not against the law, at least not yet (government regulators and the legal system often play catch-up after ethical debacles in business). Many of those activities, however, were unethical in that they ultimately produced great harm and were contrary to a number of ethical principles such as responsibility, transparency, and fairness.”

“Here’s the bad news about business ethics: your career can be irrevocably damaged if you mishandle an ethical issue. But there’s also good news: many ethical issues in business are quite predictable.”

“You can think about the ethical culture of an organization as a “slice” of the larger organizational culture that represents the aspects of organizational culture that affect the way employees think and act in ethics-related situations.”

14 – Private Government | By Elizabeth Anderson

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Elizabeth Anderson, a philosophy professor, presents an entertaining, thought-provoking, and brief discussion of politics, economics, philosophy, and history in this exploratory debate that involves the rights of workers in the US. In the text’s first half, Anderson shares the provocative views she hers of workers in the US and how they’re subjected to the whims of higher-ups who often enjoy a wide range of powers. In the second half of the book, she invites criticism from her academic peers. Any analyst, boss, or worker that enjoys academic banter and arguments will think twice about the fairness and nature of employment in the US after they read this one, Private Government: How Employers Rule Our Lives (and Why We Don’t Talk About It).

Quotes from the book;

 “Exercising autonomy – directing oneself in tasks, no matter how exacting and relentless they are – is no ordinary good. It is a basic human need.” 

“We are told that our choice is between free markets and state control, when most adults live their working lives under a third thing entirely: private government.” 

“Most workers are hired without any negotiation over the content of the employer’s authority, and without a written or oral contract specifying any limits to it.” 

“Public discourse and political philosophy largely neglect the pervasiveness of authoritarian governance in our work and off-hours lives.” 

“Workers need some kind of institutionalized voice at work to ensure that their interests are heard, that they are respected and that they have some share of autonomy in workplace decisions.” 

15 – From Values to Action | By Harry M. Kraemer

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Baxter International’s (a leader in global healthcare) former chairman and CEO, Harry Kraemer Jr. outlined, in this book, value-based and ethical leaderships’ four leading principles. Kraemer, who’s now a Kellog School of Management professor, is a seasoned leader that can teach a lot about working ethically. In this text, he highlights for you the difficulties he faced and how he managed various leadership and business crises, including the time when medical products from Baxter International caused the death of fifty-three people. The examples he gives in this book, From Values to Action: The Four Principles of Values-Based Leadership,  shows how he went about handling such kinds of scenarios. 

Quotes from the book;

 “Leadership is not about the leader. Leadership is about the growth and positive change that a leader can bring about while working with others.”

“Some companies talk a good game and have plaques on the wall stating their mission and values, but their day-to-day actions tell a different story.”

“None of us will ever get everything done; therefore, the key is to consider the trade-offs among what needs to be accomplished immediately and what can wait another day.”

“The strategic process functions as a high-level roadmap that you constantly refer to and update in order to take the company in a specific direction.”

“Without self-reflection, you’ll find it difficult to know what matters most – and to stay focused on it.”


16 – Barbarians at the Gate | By Bryan Burrough and John Helyar

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Greed, greed, and more greed bring never-ending reckless behavior. The Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco is a classic read as if the book is written today. The author reports on money-hungry CEO Ross Johson and Henry Kravis who is a power-hungry financier. Journalist Bryan Burrough and John Helyar capture behind the scenes of the deal of the decade. The BI team recommends this book to those seeking suspenseful, page-turning insights behind the deal of the decade. 

Quotes from the book;

“He felt like the man who entered the casino in a tuxedo one night and emerged the next morning in rags. Far worse, Johnson realized, he had lost all control of his fate.”

“Johnson remains a marvel at putting a salesman’s sheen on his actions and casting a blind man’s eye on their messy consequences.” 

“Reynolds Tobacco churned out $1 billion a year in cash, enough to fund the wildest schemes and cover the worst mistakes.”

“LBOs became a viable alternative in every takeover situation…because of they…promise[ed] operating autonomy and vast riches.” 

Final Thoughts

This article was an attempt to consolidate the best books on business ethics. Obviously, the list is not an exhausted list of every book on the subject. However, the ‘best books on business ethics’ list attempt to orchestrate different angles and degrees on business ethics.

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Books Best Books on Business Ethics – Summaries – Quotes